For solo developers, how do you make a game?

TheOddFellow

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Hello everyone. The title is the nugget, but I would like to expound on it. And what I mean is; the graphics, the story, the music, the animation—every part of a story. How do you do it?

See, I've had this game idea for years and I've been picking away at it. I know how it's supposed to look in my mind, I know all the twists and turns, and I can hum the music how I want. Of course, the only part I'm confident about is the story. But, what about the stuff I'm not skilled at? For those solo devs who've come across this scenario, I must ask, how did you start to tackle your projects, especially in the areas which were not your specialty?

As for now, I've decided to put an hour of my time aside to do anything for the game. Including this forum. (If I had a dump stat, it's Socializing.) It's working so far... I think.

Anyways, thank you for your time.
*Humble bow.*
 

Soulrender

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Well, when I founded my project I started with the prototype, to learn how the engine works and what it can do. The next step was to design the plot and heroes and when this part was ready next step was to ask myself the following questions:

- Can I even make a good game? (Yes and No, allay the doubts by watching and reading reviews of professional game reviewers and players about what they liked in RPGs and what don't, learn from the best, and don't repeat their mistakes.)

- Can I do pixel art? (No - search the internet for free resources, buy something in Degica store - now it's komodo plaza)

- Can I make music (No - search the internet for matching style music with licensing CC 4.0)

- Can I make battle backgrounds like the default ones provided with the engine? (No - make compositions with them, using knowledge and skills learned using graphic software)

- Can I make sound effects? (Yes - make them on my / your own)

- Can I write plugins? (No - learn JavaScript and read through core files about how the engine is written, search the internet for neat plugins).

- How much time can I spend on making the project? (Since I'm working a 2-shifts system and I'm raising my daughter alone, the only available time is weekend evenings - 2~4 hours).

- Am I expecting some unexpected real-life events like a sudden call to come to work? - (Yes, turn off the phone and switch off internet access, if you need some music to play, just turn on the radio)

After that, I managed to continue making my game without major problems for 3 years now with quite good reviews and ratings. Then I started posting my game here and on a few other websites for opinions, correcting mistakes and bugs. However, don't expect that following these terms will make your game successful, it's a painful and rough path where sometimes you will definitely start to doubt the sense of making an RPG Maker Game.
 

Kes

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I am very clear about what I cannot do, and so don't waste time trying to do it.

I cannot make my own music (except some sound effects), and while I could, eventually, do simple things in Ruby, the thought of me writing my own JS plugins is a daydream. The amount of art I can do has grown over the course of several games, but again it's a question of knowing what my limits are.

So for the things I can't do I do a combination of seeking free assets, paying for some commissions or dlc and finding workarounds. The resources sections of this forum have a wealth of stuff, some of which I edit extensively so that they fit the aesthetic of my games - I do that with dlc as well. A couple of things that I had Ruby scripts for I've found a way of doing by eventing.

But the principle thing is working out the scope of the game at the beginning and then sticking to it. It's very easy for the scope to expand leading to an impossible workload. If I have an idea which is well beyond the scope then I save it for the next game. It's necessary to be quite ruthless with myself about this.

It's also necessary (as far as is possible) to work consistently on your game, even if it is just for a short time. Maybe it's not possible to work on it every day - sometimes it isn't for me - but when I can, I do.
 

wilpuri

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The one thing everyone can do is tell a story. We are all storytellers. Other skills needed you have to learn.

I practiced with three different engines and decided to do this first game with RPG Maker. Graphics was a natural step for me because I enjoy drawing. Learning to do pixel art is a slightly different skill, but I’m getting better and faster at it. Music in my current project is actually done by my friend. I could do some simple ambient tunes, but decided to ask help instead.

The hardest things in my opinion are knowing what to do mechanically and doing the work. If your game has mechanics like combat, level ups, skills etc. They affect each other and can easily mess everything up if you’re not careful. Actually making all that is a lot different than dreaming about it. It’s a lot of planning and testing.

What happens if someone jus buys all the Mini-Nukes, is everything too easy after that? Can you just endlessly spam Full Heal Spell? Can you accidentally lock the doors so you can’t continue and complete the game? What level should the party be at the Mountain of Madman? All that is actually work. It can be fun, but it’s completely different than just thinking about it.

Then there is the doing the work, that is connected to that, but what I mean is the whole time and energy investment. It can take hours to get one NPC sprite to walk around on the map. So if you need 200 NPC’s it’s a lot of hours already. Then the eventing, switches and variables, the bug hunt. All of that takes time.

There is obviously a lot more, but I think that is the basics. The mechanics make it a game and not a novel or a comic book. Doing the work is the road from daydreaming to completed game.

You can try to skip over something by using pre-made assets, but be very careful. Quite often the end result is a lifeless clone.
 

Arctica

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I'm not even 50% on my project, but I can do the basic to medium things except for making music and effects.
 

Ami

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i'm Solo & never make it done, i'm still trying to figuring out about Gameplay Mechanics (Field & Battle) for my Project by doing the Research of the other Games, pick up what i should add & not, then execute it by implement them

that's my way, i'm still doing the Research not only the RPG Genre, but the other Genre
 

CleanWater

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When I started developing games, I only knew a bit of pixel-art and was terrible at programming.

Then I decided to make some courses about programming logic, ended learning about webdesign and kept learning since then... After that, I was able to both program and create my own graphics.

My first commercial project (the first commercial one, not an RPG Maker game, though) was made only with original resources. At first I tried to find a music composer. After a few attempts, I ended giving up. Then, I decided to learn about music and at the end I was composing some cheesy MIDI soundtracks myself.

Even so, when I looked at my own project and compared it to other professional indie games, I simply thought:

- What the heck! It's a big piece of ****!

Then, I remembered about some parody TV shows I used to watch and enjoy that poked fun of their own lack of budget to make something decent. I decided to do the same with my projects. Since then, I created a lot of games following this concept.

Before that, I also played a national title called "Rygar e os Soldados do Rei", that followed the same concept for it's game design. It was a great source of inspiration for my RPG Maker games, Fantasya Final Definitiva, Fantasya Final Definitiva 2 and Fantasya Final Definitiva REMAKE.

TL ; DR

I do my games the best way I can within my own budget and don't care too much about criticism overall. Actually, I poke fun of it myself. I just let my ideas flow. The majority of persons that actually played my games, also enjoyed my sense of humor and praised me for it.
 

TheOddFellow

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I'm so glad to have gotten so many responses! It's encouraging knowing how everyone is finding their own way, and the many different stages everyone is on. Thanks for taking your time to answer my little question, I feel I can carry on!
 

AphoticAmaranth

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I started small. My first couple of games had about 20 minutes or so of gameplay. Not very impressive I know, but I find completing a short game gives useful experience towards future games.

Game jams are a good way to start, the deadlines and theme limitations tend to prevent overscoping. There's also the ongoing One Map Game Challenge.
 

wilpuri

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I started small. My first couple of games had about 20 minutes or so of gameplay. Not very impressive I know, but I find completing a short game gives useful experience towards future games.

Game jams are a good way to start, the deadlines and theme limitations tend to prevent overscoping. There's also the ongoing One Map Game Challenge.
This is good advice. After two unfinished projects I am now making a third one, that is now actually close to a finish line.

My problem has always been too big projects too soon… including the current one, but Covid-19 helped me by giving a lot of extra time to work on the game.

This game is most likely just 4 to 6 hours long, but the amount of work you have to do if the game is not linear is just insane.

EDIT: If the world is open to the player there is endless amounts of ”what if” -situations.
 

SigmaSuccour

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And what I mean is; the graphics, the story, the music, the animation—every part of a story. How do you do it?

I speak as someone with zero drawing or composing experience. (And not knowing how to code.)
After discovering RPG Maker: I spent a few months simply gathering free assets, from all over the internet. (Assets that I could use in an RPG Maker game)

  1. Tilesets
  2. Sprites
  3. Animations
  4. Icons
  5. Enemy Battlers
  6. Sound Effects
  7. Music
  8. Background images
  9. Plugins
RPG Maker Assets.png
Screenshot of my main asset collection folder.

I collected all these, from English, German, Japanese, Russian, French... any and all sources. Everything uploaded since the dawn of the internet.
Searching through Google. Looking through game credits. Bouncing from website to website, from one reference to the next.

I spent months, just collecting assets.
And then, I spent another month, simply sorting these. And actually looking through and memorizing the things I downloaded. To put into my brain, what sort of games I can make utilizing all these.

And only then, did I start writing my first story. And working on my first game.
Which is this one right here. (And I have four more published and playable games, after that.)


Apart from having all these resources. It's been my hobby from a while back, to test different softwares. And so I'm aware of many tools, that allow me to edit the above resources very conveniently, with zero art skills. (Just as RPG Maker allows us to make games, so conveniently, without coding. There are softwares and tools, that allow us to make and edit art, music, and animation, equally as convenient, with zero art experience. So I utilize them as well.)



Using my skills of gathering resources: I started daily RPG Maker News series on YouTube, (currently paused) and made the following spreadsheet. (Though I made sure to limit myself, to mentioning only the new things coming out. Because going back to the past would be... insane. Too much there.)




That's all I suppose. I will admit, game development has been seriously convenient for me (after having done years of prep work). Since I can just focus on the story now. And most of everything else, has been handled for me (for the most part).

And just to clarify, it shocks me that I've been able to do what I have. Collecting resources all day long for months, sorting them, understanding them.
This includes, reading through and testing thousands of plugins.
Listening to thousands of music tracks.
Risking downloading and testing hundreds of software, dreading it doesn't compromise my OS. (And it did a few times. Until I learned how to better manage viruses.)

All of this is mind numbing, to the point where I don't have much a memory of having done most of it. :LZSlol: (And so I'm probably missing many details from it.)



And now that I think about it...
Perhaps learning how to draw, and code, and compose... would have been far easier... if I knew that I'd be spending so much time... collecting and understanding other people's work...
 
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HexMozart88

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The title made me laugh a bit because it sounded like the broadest question in the world, but now that I've looked at the post, I now can actually answer this question.

Basically, it's like what others have said. Make the game you can make. Like, I'm bad at Ace's weird type of Ruby (and honestly, just Ruby in general), so I just event everything and try to make stuff easier for myself by limiting scope. The good thing about working solo is you actually have to look your feature creep in the eye and say,
 

TheoAllen

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Compromise. This is what all game devs do. Even for bigger companies. Some dev sacrificed part of their game story because it was hard to be presented in-game, etc.

If you are in hurry to complete the game as soon as possible for reasons. You have to compromise. Use available resources, both in terms of asset availability and your own skills.

But if you can take the time to do it, then you can learn all possible skills you could learn. The usefulness could even extend beyond just game dev. Going with this route, completing a game could take years, even a decade, or never finished at all. But it all depends on your goal anyway.

---
On a kinda related note, if you want to learn how to compose your own music, I made a basic composition tutorial you could check. Link in my signature :D
 

ATT_Turan

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And what I mean is; the graphics, the story, the music, the animation—every part of a story. How do you do it?
You don't. You list story as part of a story, and then include all these other things, but those aren't a part of a story. Only the story is.

I mean, isn't that the entire point of you buying an RPG Maker? If you could already code a game and draw the graphics and write the music, why would you have given this other company any of your money? :stickytongue:

The purpose of the software and its included assets is so that the only thing you have to be able to do to make a game is create the story.
 

TheOddFellow

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I want to thank everyone for taking their time to answer my question; the response was much greater than I expected! I've been having a difficult time finishing any project and it's nice to hear all the different ways everyone is combating / has combated issues which held back the game
You don't. You list story as part of a story, and then include all these other things, but those aren't a part of a story. Only the story is.

I mean, isn't that the entire point of you buying an RPG Maker? If you could already code a game and draw the graphics and write the music, why would you have given this other company any of your money? :stickytongue:

The purpose of the software and its included assets is so that the only thing you have to be able to do to make a game is create the story.
You know, I never thought of it like that. I was always stuck on how I wanted everything to look. That being said, I'm sure I could write up a story with assets that others have made, but I feel that if I do that, I won't be paying as much attention to my game. As if I'm giving up in a sense. But seeing as how the other solo devs have responded here, I may have to keep an eye out for other solutions.

That being said, I am trying spriting and music-making at the moment.
 

Tortletalk

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Assuming you are talking about staying motivated and our approach towards working on a project:

For me, I have taken the approach where I have an idea of the story and exactly what I want to happen and how I want it to go, and then I'm figuring out ways to make that idea work.
Generally speaking, there is always a way of doing what you want in a scene or event - but it can take a lot of work in order to get it to a level you want.
This is how I went about a large battle scene at the start of the game - I had to figure out all sorts of tricks in eventing, mapping and spriting to put it all together, but my reward is a cool scene that works exactly as I wanted and a significant boost to my skills in the engine going forward.

Thanks to this approach, I've learnt so much already and I'm getting honestly, pretty damn good at drawing sprites from scratch, something I had no idea how to do when I started.
Another benefit of this is variety. I'm constantly cycling through one thing to another as and when I wish - this means everything always seems interesting and is genuinely fun to work on, so I don't get burnt out and I can stay motivated. I also have very little time per day to actually work on my game, so that doesn't hurt, either.

One thing that's working for me is I've divided the game into 'sections', for instance a whole 2-5 hour (depending on the player) tutorial / first dungeon makes up the first section and so I completed this first before sending it out as an alpha demo and proof of concept. The next section (that I'm working on now) works as a hub area and has several quests for players to do. It ends in a route that they will need to pass through, so this will be the end of the second section and something I will complete before moving on.

I have disregarded things such as action sequences, menu aesthetics, and a flashy title screen - these will come later, but for now game balance, mechanics, and just getting the story and game actually made is far more important to me right now.
 

Ellenor

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Back when I was a solo dev I just had to plan after my limitations.
Like, I can do art but I can't program at all!
So, I had to plan after that, what scripts could help me, and if I had an idea that did not exist in a premade script I had to scratch it.

A few years later I kinda just asked my husband if he can code.
(He got a PhD in computer science.)
And that is how our dev team was born.

So that is also a way to tackle your areas of limitations, find someone that are weak in an area you are strong in that can provide something you can't do.

You can also buy assets, either premade or by commission someone.
So there are many options to choose between =3
 

Lord_Bluffkin

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I've worked on a ton of projects, and the strategy has always been the same:

  1. Release little tastes of what you're capable of. Maintain an online portfolio.
  2. Leverage your smaller works to build a reputation, and refine your understanding of your audience. Invest in advertising to broaden your reach (graphical assets), or trade services with people at the same level to be introduced to their audience.
  3. Use your portfolio and reputation to get hired onto other people's projects. Earn revenue in exchange for your time.
  4. Once you have a large enough audience and some seed money, ask for their support to complete a larger project. Get quotes from devs that would be willing to work with you, and set a target to crowdfund against. Don't forget to include advertising in the budget you are fundraising toward.
Today you are at Step 1. Stories your thing? Maintain a compendium of free side quest or main story ideas. Go outside the RPGMaker community - tabletop gaming on Reddit has over 1.5M users.

You'll know it's time to go to Step 2 when people start messaging you asking for trades. When people start messaging you how much you charge, then you're at Step 3.
 

SGHarlekin

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Hmm... To answer the question in a simple manner: Just do it.
For stuff that I can't do myself because I can't draw and I can't compose: money.

The long answer is: I commission an artist and I search for music packs online.
I buy tilesets, commission plugins and battlers/animations.

Now I'm not a rich guy, so my commissions are limited to small pieces per month, but the only other options would be doing it myself, which in my opinion, is just not feasible. You can't do everything on your own. (I mean you technically can, but the overall result is mediocre at best tbh)
 

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